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Parent responds to TV attack on school kids joining protest

Commentary by Jess Sundin |
March 27, 2010
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School kids protest at Pawlenty's office.
School kids protest at Pawlenty's office. (Fight Back! News/Kim DeFranco)

Minneapolis, MN - We have a social safety net that is nearly gone, and the politicians are stealing the last crumbs from the tables of our state's poorest families. Not only do they ignore our kids when they cut the budget, they try to hide the fact that children make up the majority of impoverished people in this country.

So, yesterday [March 23], the children of welfare rights activists, as well as middle school students from my daughter’s school, participated in a protest at the governor's office. Two local TV stations ignored the crisis that budget cuts will create for our families, and instead criticized parents and schools for having children participate the protest.

One says we're using our kids as pawns, when they know nothing about the issues protesting. The other takes a play from the tea party playbook, complaining that a publicly-funded school took students on a field trip to a protest.

At Southside Family School, my daughter is getting a great education. After just a few months in kindergarten, she can read those cardboard signs folks hold up beside the road, "Will work for food." She asks me about it, and I choose not to lie to her.

Like most kids her age, she pays attention to the world around her, and she has opinions about it. She knows it's bad to be hungry. She knows how important it is to have a place to call home. She even knows that medicine makes her feel better when she's sick. Some kids know it even more personally; their parents can’t choose to shelter them from the hard knocks of life - 20% of American kids live in poverty.

You don't need to be 18 years old to believe that everyone should have their basic needs met. You shouldn't have to wait until you vote, before you can speak up and be counted.

And really, is it such a crazy idea? Okay, maybe not everyone blames the governor, or the capitalist system... but can't we all agree that children shouldn't live in poverty? So, you take your kids to church to ask God to take care of it, and I'll take mine to a protest to ask the government to take care of it.

One of the most wonderful things about children is their idealism. My daughter believes everyone CAN have what they need. And she believes that WE can change the world to be that. How could I teach her to ignore reality, teach her that she has nothing to say about how her world is, or teach her that she cannot help shape it?

The media stories criticize us for teaching our kids to hate. Have they ever watched their own news reports? And all that air time given to racist, tea bagger rants? I do not teach my child to hate, and I don't think most of us do. I teach her that some things are right, and some things are wrong. And I teach her that if someone is doing the wrong thing, you should speak up and try to stop them.

I teach her that Gov. Pawlenty is responsible for his choices, just as she is for hers. And I teach her that people can change - and they should. The entire spirit of a protest is that the people in power have a choice - they can choose to act differently. This is how I talk to my daughter.

She's five, I don't tell her everything (like that it's not in the Governor’s interest to act differently, and it is only pressure from outside, from poor and working people and our allies, that will make him change). I also don't tell her that some people hate queer folks, like her two mamas. I do tell her that some people don't like us, but they are wrong. And yup, we don't like Gov. Pawlenty. Give me one good reason why our family should like him?

It is a good and positive thing to teach children that they have power, that they have a voice. If we hope to see a better world one day, our children will need confidence in their own strength to bring it about.

That is exactly what makes Southside such a wonderful school. Our children learn about social justice and are taught progressive values. But they are not brainwashed, or set up as props for protesters. On the contrary, our kids learn about the issues they become involved in. And not just the he said-she said of "both sides." They learn the background, the statistics, the history. Southside holds up the example of the Civil Rights movement to say that protests can make change. It makes sense that sometimes, students go out into the world, and put what they are studying into practice. They can see and decide for themselves - by doing - whether and how to have an impact on the world around them.

So, cheers to all the students, children and youth who are taking it to the streets and speaking out for justice in the world. We need you!